If only it were true. The reality is that Congress increasingly has its paws all over the Internet. Lawmakers and regulators are busier than ever trying to expand the horizons of cyber-control across the board: copyright mandates, cybersecurity rules, privacy regulations, speech controls, and much more.
Earlier this year, Congress tried to meddle with the Internet's addressing system in order to blacklist sites that allegedly infringe copyrights -- a practice not unlike that employed by the Chinese to censor political speech. The Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) may have targeted pirates, but its collateral damage would have been the very "stable and secure" Internet Congress now wants "free from government control." A wave of furious protests online forced Congress to abandon the issue, at least for the moment.
Having apparently learned their lesson, Congress has left out direct regulation of the Internet from the comprehensive cybersecurity legislation they are now considering. A previous version of Senator Joseph Lieberman's bill would have given the president an "Internet kill switch" to be used in times of emergency, much like the one used by Hosni Mubarak during the Egyptian revolution. Nevertheless, the legislation that is now making its way through Congress could undo an untold number of privacy protections and give law enforcement and the National Security Agency access to personal information without a warrant.
Members of Congress today are critical of proposals by Russia and China to enact an information security convention, possibly including the ability to censor content in order to ensure domestic stability and security. But lawmakers were the ones who engaged in this behavior last year, by pressuring American companies to block WikiLeaks after its release of State Department cables. As a result of this pressure, Amazon stopped hosting the cables on its servers, EveryDNS dropped service (making the wikileaks.org domain inoperable), and payment processors like Visa and Mastercard refused to accept donations for the group, almost bankrupting it.
Privacy-related mandates are also proliferating rapidly both within Congress and the Obama Administration. The push for new privacy rules has meant less time spent pursing controls on speech and expression, but for the previous decade Congress had introduced a steady stream of censorship measures. In 2006, by a lopsided 410-15 vote, the House passed the Deleting Online Predators Act, which proposed a ban on social networking sites in public schools and libraries. This followed attempts by both federal and state lawmakers to impose online age verification schemes and filtering mandates on the Net. In those cases, courts consistently struck down these censorial laws as violations of America's First Amendment free speech rights.
While the congressional resolution is commendable, these examples make clear that congress would do well to heed its own cries of alarm. The most serious threat to Internet freedom is not the hypothetical specter of United Nations control, but the very real creeping cyber-statism at work in the legislatures of the United States and other nations. We hope those members who vote for the resolution tomorrow will remember their distaste for Internet regulation in the future.